Calm in the first Brexit cyclone – brace for collective leadership for the post-Brexit cyclone!

After the recent high action-high octane months last week felt like a breather on Brexit. MPs were asked to use the Easter break to reflect. I have never been in the eye of a storm, but the situation read a bit like the calm and peace weather at the centre of a cyclone. Well, then the peace was spoiled by sharp mutual accusations from all sides, as attention moved back from Brussels to home.

Cyclone 1.jpg

The second, post-Brexit cyclone

And that exactly points to the second cyclone. You recall the satellite images where one storm follows another. Either a Brexit or a Remain decision has been made, or anything in between. The same questions will be imminent: What is fallout or outlook of either for society? Will the ripple effects of the original escalation result in more verbal escalations, if not more? How can society and people deal with it?

Interestingly the Chancellor Philip Hammond in the BBC suggested that “although I’m sure it seems incredible right now, in a year’s time, when this is behind us…all this will be forgotten, we will move on, and Britain will have a bright future.” That is one option and this may happen.

However the forgetting, forgiving and moving on might be more difficult. Not everyone will have a more pragmatic stance of thinking this is all a short-term transaction. Many have been truly invested and are emotionally hurt. Then preparing for the second, the fall-out cyclone, is about bringing society at every level back together – in parliament and parties, organisations, in communities as the backbone of towns and cities, or in family relationships that have suffered.

For the post-Brexit cyclone– three avenues to explore now

Detoxing society

In our leadership research we speak about toxic or corrosive energy in organisations. This shows in anger, open infighting, back stabbing, distrust in power, zero-sum games, winning and losing at all cost, putting partisan interest above collective interests, break down of cross-interest collaboration. Sounds familiar?

Some activities to kick off:

  • As society, acknowledge corrosive energy as an issue – ignoring will not help
  • Cleaning up corrosive energy –key is to take the abrasiveness, the steam and fire out of the conversations, language and communication
  • Learning to (re-)trust – Creating small projects and actions across the divisions to re-learn trusting each other across identity groups, partisan interests and societal processes
  • What is joint agenda? – Reworking strong and shared countrywide values, identity and purpose, yet only when the steam has left the pressure cooker.

Healing and forgiveness

To consider the necessity of healing and forgiving may be a strange thought. However, recall the language that has been and continues to be used. People across society in all spheres of life can role model healing, acknowledge the demand for healing and instil forgiveness. Facilitating a collective process can be crucial to not fall into a trap of an individual saviour. Solving collective issues requires shared involvement and ownership.

“Truth and Reconciliation Commission” … that could be a bit far-fetched, or is it?

Many speak of a national collaboration to make Brexit happen – this has not really happened. To reshape society in and from the second cyclone is a national, cross society effort that involves all societal arenas. People will engage with this anyway. The job is to notice, talk about it, and make the progress of healing visible or show that differences are not too deep.

Or just maybe… Obviously we have not seen in the last five years or so what South Africa has suffered from for decades, and any comparison would belittle the pain of that nation. But could the UK learn from some of the principles of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), to reunite and heal wounds?

TRC was about promotion of national unity and reconciliation, the mandate included witnessing, recording, sometimes giving amnesty to violations of human rights, reparation and rehabilitation, but also offering to express regret for possible failures or do declare remorse. How would that sound contextualised to the UK?

Try this!

When was the last time you have reached to a person on the other side of argument in a constructive and positive way and with a mind-set of listening?

Identify a person, reach out and start to focus on common ground instead of identifying differences.

Happy engaging – stay tuned.


We asked leaders to look through the telescope: Work and leadership in 2028?!

Sometimes you wonder why such an exciting and thought-provoking piece of work lands on your desk. Deutsche Telekom and Detecon International asked myself and Obiageli Heidelberger-Nkenke at the Henley Centre for Leadership to partner with them on exploring how work and leadership will look in 2028: ‘Work 2028: trends, dilemmas & choices’ report.

180823_DTAG_325_024_Studie_2028_EN_FINALWhat is role of the fourth industrial revolution, artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, transforming human needs, and … for work and leadership? And what are the implications for society, organisations, manager and employees? What do we need to debate and act upon NOW, to successfully reach the next DECADE?

  • 50 fascinating, mind-blowing and provocative interviews with business and societal leaders from different sectors, countries, spheres of live resulted in
  • 16 projections for 2028 Work and Leadership and implications for society, businesses and us as humans
  • often appeared as dilemmas, paradoxes, junctions rather than straight forward, nice and cosy trajectories
  • which give you springboard to kick start debates and action.

A sneak peek. Fancy more?

Here the some “shortcuts” of our 2028 projections for Societies, Organisations, Work and Leadership


There is not a polite ‘Try this’ – This is a ‘Must do’!

The study and the insights are an eye opener. Hence not ‘Try this’, but a ‘Must do’.

Here details to download ‘Work 2028: trends, dilemmas & choices’ report or our recent article for Henley Leadership Insights.

You find also find initial activities to take this into your organisations, teams, environments.

Debate fast! Act soon! AND get in touch!

Happy engaging – stay tuned. 

On leader communication, literature and Crete

What a privilege to attend a conference of around 100 global leadership scientists, the 3rd Interdisciplinary Perspective on Leadership Symposium – and even more so when it is held in a warm week in spring on the beautiful Greek island of Crete. But now, what can one offer back to a community of managers and academics? It can only be a very subjective choice.


Same story, different meaning

To choose communication behaviour as a focus for managers’ practice, is normally not a straightforward choice for me. At other conferences or talks I am typically bored by the simplicity of how managers should improve communication. However, here was Michelle Dickson, from George Washington University, and she introduced us to this great gem. Her works builds on the coordinated management of meaning (CMM) by Pearce, Cronen and Harris (1982).

In a nutshell CMM reminds us that communication is a process co-created with people – NOT a one way-street of managers talking. CMM is also about communicating meaning at work which is increasingly expected by organisational members. Yet this meaning can play out very differently when co-created in different contexts – the authors speak of-5-6 levels. For instance, whatever you like to convey as a manager, its meaning can alter depending on:

  • the actual speech acts
  • the identity or self of people involved
  • the relationships with other people
  • specific episodes during the communication process
  • the culture of an organization and their people


This framework is a nice reminder for managers about the challenge of creating consistent stories for change, success or development in the organisation or tribe.

Meet the destructive leaders from Dostoevsky’s The Possessed

Another gem I took from the conference, was surprisingly, a new view on the value of literature. Not only the exciting scientific stuff, but Cécile Emery (University of Surrey) and Claudia Jonczyk (ESCP Europe) connected Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Possessed (or Demons) to leadership. Thinking of the five Dostoevsky books on the shelf at home, I was reminded of a time when the sheer amount of reading for this job had not pushed aside reading for pleasure. Here may be a way back.


[Portrait of Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov, 1872]

Cécile and Claudia use the fictional characters in The Possessed to explore how negative leadership emerges. The character Nikolai Stavrogin exhibits positive attributes but also characteristics typical of destructive leaders. Peter Verkhovensky, while actually in a follower position, according to Cécile and Claudia his purpose, actions and drive ultimately enable collective destructive leadership. The dividing line between leaders and followers vanishes.

Does this picture sound familiar when thinking about your own work?

What an idea to learn about leadership and followership from fiction. If you think about it, many of us already do, by consulting inspiring biographies or autobiographies which often read like works of fiction. Why not go straight to the real thing?

Try this

I appreciate you might not be able to go to leadership conferences. Instead, when you meet your sounding board or have lunch with colleagues: Identify one of your best processes of communication. What was the role of the others in creating meaning and stories? How did you convey meaning in the multiple contexts you have to consider? What role did personal identities, relationships with other people or the culture of your organization play?

Or, when you read your holiday books or you re-read the books of your youth, why don’t you filter for the concrete leadership of the louder and quieter protagonists. What is their behaviour, how do they tell stories, what are the consequences? How has their eco-system enabled them towards positive or negative action?

Happy engaging – stay tuned.

Having time to contemplate, to replenish and refocus – working with the contradictions of disciplined musing

IMG_5776Research and practice on energy, resilience or well-being tell us that stepping away from the so-called treadmill of work for a distinct period helps to recharge batteries. And this is crucial to thrive, enjoy, find purpose and perform in the long run. Business leaders also share their techniques around thinking weeks or retreats.

All fine, but what to do if you actually have such an opportunity? This is exactly what I faced with the privilege of having a sabbatical and being on a research visit for a few weeks in February at the department of Managing People in Organizations of IESE Business School. Two practical learnings to share and consider.

Starting in personal acceleration as a hurdle and disciplined contemplating

It is wonderful to have three weeks in front of you where the diary is more or less empty, autonomy and own discretion is high, so the purpose is really to replenish, get inspired and refocus. Obviously it is a privilege, so it comes with responsibility.

Shifting away from high, if not over-energy phases, and away from beyond the tipping point of resilience or well-being, towards a phase of generative floating, is an interesting experience.

Managers know that all too well. It takes time to change gear and go into a mode of contemplating. And because such a phase is a privilege, responsibility plays a role in those mind-games. There is a voice in your head asking ‘What immediate output do I create from this?’ While I actually looked for a transition from day-to day output orientation to creating appetite, looking for ideas and accidental collusions that flourish longer term. I figured there is something about discipline in staying course for musing, thinking, and not falling back into production mode too early.

Landing in supportive conditions

No surprise in my leadership development practice I build on reflexion and identity work when revisiting managers’ purpose and life agendas. However, it is not all in your own hands.

Conducive conditions are crucial for people to flourish. Same for me. I landed in two layers of supportive context that elevated my endeavour.

Think macro context – the city I visited, Barcelona. A very accessible, visually stimulating place. It was also unusually cold which challenges your framing of a place. Well, I obviously also found the long stretch of seaside which even with 15 degrees Celsius, the sun still opens the mind.

Think micro context: I visited the department of Managing People in Organizations and it members. What a difference it makes to find an open and inviting space when doing a short visit for inspiration.

If you want to replicate the setting, focus on the following attributes I found in my hosts:

  • Genuine openness for me to join into activities and to listen in;
  • Mutual receptiveness of ideas in conversation;
  • An immediate sense of acceptance towards a guest while curiosity about the otherness that a guest provides remains.

These aspects helped to nurture, replenish, inspire and refocus my academic thinking.

Try this

This is not a challenge of knowing, this is challenge of doing.

You may not have the opportunity to step out of your job big time. So while you work, where can you find, prioritise, and protect pockets of time that allow you to drive thinking and refocusing – instead of doing and perpetuating?

You do need to go this alone. Probably also not helpful. So who in your network is supporting you and how can you influence your macro and micro conditions that help you to replenish, get inspired and refocus?

Happy engaging – stay tuned.

Henley Centre for Leadership Voices: Trump’s inauguration – one year on, Senior Management Teams and New Year resolutions


If you look back at news reporting between November 2016 and today, it is astonishing. Every move, idea, comment and breath by Donald Trump has been commented on and responded to, and for good reason.

However, it also tells us about ourselves as an audience. You will remember, in my blogs I mentioned these dynamics a year ago! So how about pausing for a moment: observing, but not necessarily reacting. In doing this we could take a more systemic view and reflect on the productive role the groups and networks in the wider eco-system play.

So how about the involvement of senior management teams?

Recently, we seem to be learning about the individuals, networks and senior groups in the President’s environment, in more detail than we might actually want. Still, that poses a crucial question: How can senior management teams be relevant, purpose-rich, challenging and healthy in situations with difficult, ambiguous leadership constellations?

You think this is a big leap to make? Maybe not. Look at your context. In ever more fluid organisations and surprising business situations, proactivity, voicing productive challenge, positive action, and purpose-rich momentum stems not only from the so-called ‘top’, but from other hubs in the organisation such as senior management teams. The top group is instrumental, but at the same time limited, due to its very context, and because other management teams are often closer to the business and to customers.

Well, are you a member of one of those teams?  Let’s take belated advantage of the time of year…

New Year Resolutions – from me to us

I love my New Year resolutions. Finally I am at the centre of my own attention. Good for me. Now in late January that is calming down a bit. Good for collective and systemic thinking.  To play a greater role in a difficult leadership situation you might consider one New Year resolution for the management team you are a member of: Let’s rethink our contribution to societies’ demands and the organisations ambitions!

In need of a trigger? Think, if only you could reinvent the management team that you are involved in today! Why does the management team exist? What would we miss if you and your management team were NOT there?  If you could reinvent it, what would your team be outstanding at? What would you stop immediately? What are the complementary capabilities that we would find?

Try this:

I cannot imagine that you don’t want to explore these questions with your colleagues and peers. At least for a bit of distraction from the looming anniversary.  And if you don’t want to explore these questions, what are the reasons holding you back?

Happy engaging – stay tuned.

The Henley Centre for Leadership Voices and one initiative

telescope.jpgWhat an interesting year 2017 has been for leadership, and 2018 is already looking promising. People say New York is the city that never sleeps; to me leadership is the topic that never sleeps.

At the Henley Centre for Leadership (HCL) we are raising our engagement with our audience to the next level.  Our new fortnightly HCL Voices is a series of brief blogs by HCL faculty who will highlight research, ideas, practices, and insights to generate debate, stir up emotions and trigger exploration, experimentation and influence behaviour towards the subject of engaging leadership.

In case you have forgotten us or never heard about us before – we are the Henley Centre for Leadership

–  the hub for innovative leadership insights, debates and learning. We are dedicated to exploring, investigating, understanding and advancing new forms, practices and sources of leadership in global contexts. In so doing, we seek to create significant intellectual insights, stimulation and practical support for leadership.

With our activities in the three integrated areas of –

Research engagement

Outreach, impact and networking

Learning and Educating

– we aim to change leadership and the lives of organisational members. This new HCL Voices series will share ideas and insights with you from these areas and more.


And watch out for – The Henley Centre for Leadership Lab

The Henley Centre for Leadership Lab is the Consortium for Sustained Leadership Excellence.

The HCL Lab will bring together leaders from a set of outstanding international organisations for a two-year consortium – to fundamentally engage your organisation and re-shape your leadership approach for sustained leadership excellence and performance.

Why do we call it a Lab? Because it combines a scientific approach with expertise in practice, and offers a place of learning which can achieve leadership excellence.

To start sharing our ideas with organisations we held an evening event in London in November where representatives from businesses, government organisations and charities took part in the HCL Lab, where the topic featured was Leading Healthy, Resilient Organisations for High Performance.

Learn more here. Watch out and join us for more. We will be running a one day workshop in early summer.

Try this

If you could write a leadership blog in your organisation, which ideas, debates and practices would you share with your colleagues? More importantly, when would you start to share it?

Happy engaging – stay tuned.

Snapping at snap election – Leadership is difficult

cloud_cloudscape_dark_dawn_606420.jpgIn the UK fresh elections have been called by surprise. One intriguing aspect – the many answers out there already, 3 hours after such a massive decision. I wonder: Before throwing answers out, are we even aware of the questions and challenges at this stage?

From the many possible leadership questions, I focus on shaping respect & disrespect, then on clarity, misalignment & healing.

Respect and disrespect

Many will argue calling election is a breach of trust. What do messages and promises actually mean today? Where is the value? When it has only been four weeks or so since the government consistently ruled out early election. Politicians, bankers, managers are often rated low for us trusting them, etc.

Nevertheless, I have heard that too often.

Interestingly you can turn it around and ask if an early election means that the government trusts the people, the electorate?

Or you can ask how we actually behave and what we contribute so that influential people consider they can breach our trust regularly?

However, what about respect? While for strategic leadership this decision makes complete sense, at the interpersonal level of leadership it may signal a lack of regard and respect towards the citizens who can be told or untold everything at discretion. And what kind of behaviour will this reinforce in other people in society who are observing this?

Shared clarity, misalignment and healing rifts

However, one function of people at the helm of organisations or societies is to make decisions for us. That is, decisions we actually often do not wish to make ourselves. A challenge of every person with a big remit is then how to create alignment and clarity amongst and beyond its own audiences and constituencies.

What is then the lasting impact of this current global political habit: Announcing actions for the long-term, but then change the sell-by date in weeks? Will this cause more rifts and accelerate the need for healing inside and between parts of divided societies?

“The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” said Theresa May on 18 April 2017. Who knows if this is the case or not? Is this a first step towards shared clarity, or perhaps another step to more misalignment and divisions?

One element of engaging leadership that can be decisive for this will be the narratives and the language that the influential people will put out to their audience in the next 8 weeks and after the elections. The jury is out.

Try this

If on the other side leadership is actually everyone’s job, then you can ask yourself what role and behaviour will you show in this situation?

Like in your organisation, how could you engage and create the leadership debates and engagement that help shape long-term clarity and alignment?

Happy engaging – stay tuned.

Rebel with(out) a cause


Warner Bros Entertainment Inc.

I don’t know about you, but to me lightbulb-moments often occur randomly when seemingly unconnected things all of a sudden connect so clearly. Recently, for me, three things were in the mix.

Which type are you?

First connection: So I saw this paper by Francesca Gino titled: ‘Let your workers rebel’, years after it was published in Harvard Business Review. I was really struck by the heading.

Many loathe the idea of stepping out of line to speak for others or for themselves. While others thrive in being a maverick, they like to be seen as a lone wolf in their business with an own independent mind-set.


Second connection: And then this request came along from a large newspaper: Compare and contrast the one politician in everybody’s mind with other world leaders! And then it clicked between this and the above. Do we see a type of rebel behaviour here? Is it a rebel with or without a cause? Or with a cause, yet for whom in particular? And maybe this ambiguity is what make people globally nervous or excited?

What does that mean for you and your organisation? Particularly if rebellion is outside the norms and rituals of your organisation. How do people interpret your behaviours and real intentions? To what extent do they think those reflect your purely individual interest or do they have good faith in your commitment to the shared agenda and collective aims?

Collective orientation

Third connection: And then this other new study by Benson, Hardy and Eys on followership appeared in my inbox. It looks at attributes of effective followership behaviour – in sport teams from the perspectives of the coaches. One facet stood out to me: Collective orientation, which is a bit like identification with and importance of shared aims and agenda.

So can we look for a rebel with a collective cause? That sounds quite different? Still it depends on the cause and for which collective it is a pressing issue– and for which NOT… As we currently see in the US and Europe likewise.

Try this.

Who are your rebels at work and in your other crucial spheres of life? How do you react to those rebels? Why? Do they rebel for the good of the organisation? Do they create the disruptions that many organisations so much long for?

Happy engaging – stay tuned.

A game changer for leadership practice?


A few weeks ago I read the Guardian and was drawn towards the following headline: “Police need to drop ‘boss knows best’ leadership, says Met contender” . The Guardian had interviewed Sara Thornton, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council. She is considered for the post of Met commissioner, Head of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, and becoming the successor to Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.

In the piece Thornton called for a change of culture, in my world leadership culture, in the police that moves away from assuming that the higher ups have the appropriate answers to all tasks and activities. For situations and challenges that are complex and I would add, ambiguous, maybe new or unknown, she was cited with saying that “we need to bring everybody’s views to bear on how we solve these problems”.

This a fascinating development and in my experience a process that many other organisations are going through or will go through – affecting culture but also day-day-practice and how managers see themselves as leaders.

This also resonates with my earlier post on ‘FREEDOM TO SPEAK UP – MANAGERS’ CHALLENGE OF LISTENING?’.

Often the opposite comments in my leadership workshops

Interestingly in my workshops participants mention with a sense of longing and awe that in the military or police ‘command-and-control leadership’ is outstanding. Yes, it probably is. And it works in specific situation of police work. However, the interview sounds like we as observers probably hugely oversimplify the different demands the police and other forces are dealing with – and as such in addition new forms of engaging leadership, inspiring higher ups and peers, might be needed to match the reality of the challenges these institutions are facing.

Try this.

When did Command-and-Control last really work well in your organisation? For whom? With which results? I would not be surprised it worked, but maybe in different circumstances than imagined…

Happy engaging – stay tuned.

Leadership, Donald Trump, and inauguration – might be worth a thought or two.


Last week in a Henley MBA cohort we had a heated debate. This leaves no one indifferent.

And it is a difficult one. We can easily focus on the person only – and condemn or applaud. I am more interested in the system of leadership relationships and how we react to the phenomenon.

Commentators have focussed on the person characteristics they decoded: Ascribing the phenomenon only to a person’s inherent individual characteristics, style, values, sense of identity or world view is cutting too short. Well, in non-academic terms it also a ‘cop out’ for others involved. Leadership research is pretty clear about that. We might call it charisma, or else, nevertheless it is not working like a light bulb that you just switch on for yourself and everyone is attached!

Instead people decide if they see something in you and endorse you. That is why many commentators have focussed on sections of society of distinct characteristics that supposedly have endorsed Donald Trump and are the key for the success. Might be.

How long those relationships will last is an intriguing question. We can differentiate between leadership as deciding/taking action and leadership as mobilising people around a shared purpose. What happens when the actual decisions will not match the purpose for which people got mobilised? Many might have projected their fears or dreams into the person. What if those are not being fulfilled? Will we see more disappointment and separation which initially might have been the reason for the strong bonds and certain votes?

And the contribution to the current dynamics of the people who have not voted for the person or not voted at all?

I increasingly think about non-action as a key ingredient of leadership consequences. Normally research looks at laissez faire shown by managers. I am as much interested in laissez faire behaviour of followers – or here observers, collaborators …
Refer to your organisational experience – when large numbers of people are not content with the development of their organisation. However, they never speak up. Or always assume that someone else is stepping up to prevent the developments they really do not like. Have we seen in many a sense of being superior or being correct by default? And thus not considering to take enough action or to start thinking? Because it cannot happen, can it?

You could conclude from this and ask

Who is actually detached? Those who are not involved and seemingly do not benefit from societal developments (as presented often by commentators)? Or those who are involved and benefitting from societal developments but do consider it worth to contribute to make it sustainable for other communities?

Try this.

You guessed it. Two aspects of leadership I have not touched, but for many might manifest lines that have been crossed: The relevance of personal values of a person, and the overall purpose: how will the link between the individual purpose and ambition and the shared purpose a person is answerable to play out? Nice one to discuss at the lunch table.

Happy engaging – stay tuned.